I had never worn Dune and had only the most loose memory of it, having smelled it only on other people, and then infrequently. My sister A wore it; at the time, she was in college and I didn’t see her often. I remember giving her a hug when she was home for a visit, noting that she smelled nice. I asked if she had a new perfume. “It’s called Dune,” she told me. “And don’t ask to borrow it. It’s mine. Don’t go buying it, because I chose it, and it’s mine.”
(You’d think that I’d stolen her sweaters when we were teenagers! But no. She’s four years younger, and we have wildly differing taste in music, clothes, and fragrance. Why she was so adamant about not sharing, I still have no idea. She was similarly possessive about her Coco Mademoiselle a few years ago.)
My sister-in-law E – mother of Curiosity and Primrose, if you were wondering – had worn Dune as well, but had given it up due to fragrance sensitivities of a close friend. A few years ago I gave her a mini I’d picked up for her, but I didn’t open it to smell because the box was sealed. So I still didn’t remember what Dune smelled like.
After reading Victoria’s review at Bois de Jasmin and Angela’s review at Now Smell This, and seeing all the “I love Dune!” comments on those reviews, I decided to go smell it. I couldn’t find a tester at my local mall, so I went to my old standby eBay and bought a spray mini bottle of eau de toilette, figuring that E would like to have it if I hated it myself. I do not know how old this bottle is, but I am beginning to suspect that it might be an older one, since apparently the purse-size 7.5ml spray is no longer made, and because the bottle itself has a lovely iridescent sheen that I haven’t seen on currently-available bottles. I’ve heard that Dune has been reformulated (what hasn’t?), but I’m not sure when, and the consensus seems to be that the current juice is very wearable, not ruined at all. It was once available in parfum, but now only in edt.
Dune was composed by a team: Jean-Louis Sieuzac, Dominique Ropion, and Nejla Bsiri-Barbir. (I have quite good luck with Ropion fragrances, I notice: Aimez-Moi, Alien, Ysatis, Jungle L’Elephant, and of course the masterpiece Carnal Flower. Sieuzac, not-so-much; he was responsible for the Great Evil, Opium. But I forgive him.) Dune’s notes list (via Fragrantica) is of considerable length. Topnotes: aldehydes, bergamot, mandarin, palisander. Heartnotes: broom, wallflower, lily, peony, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang. Basenotes: lichen, amber, moss, musk, patchouli, benzoin, sandalwood, vanilla.
When it arrived, I promptly lost the package and didn’t find it for two weeks (grrr, I have Too Much Stuff!), but upon finally locating it, ripped it open and sprayed right on skin, forget paper. It smelled, whaddya know, familiar – not in an immediately-placeable way (“Dune!!”), or in the time-dislocation manner of Proust’s madeleines, but in a way that made me say to myself, “Oh. Oh, yes. I remember smelling this.”
Dune seems to me to have one foot in the 1980s and one in the 1990s: despite its jam-packed notes list and its complexity of smell (very ’80s perfumery), and despite its utter dissimilarity to light, citrusy-aquatic, “clean” scents like contemporaries cKOne and L’eau d’Issey, it smells very cohesive, all of one piece, almost what I think of as being a “spa” sort of fragrance. Olfactory Zen meditation, if you will. And it is strikingly strange, particularly for being a mainstream fragrance you can find in a department store.
What I smell first in Dune is lavender. It smells just fine, but I am peculiarly sensitive to linalool, as it is prone to giving me monstrous headaches. I suffer a good bit through the opening. In actuality, there is no lavender in the notes list – but palisander, or rosewood, as I found out while reviewing Abdes Salaam Attar Rosewood for the O Tannenbaum joint blog project in December, contains strong aspects of linalool, so I’m certain that’s what’s causing my headache. (God forbid I spray it on fabric ever again, as the resulting headache lasted not thirty minutes, but a full four hours, coming on immediately upon sniffing my scarf and staying until I finally gave up and took two ibuprofen tablets. And washed the scarf. Twice. By the way, don’t spray it on anything you don’t want stained. It doesn’t show on my russet paisley scarf, but Dune does have a light amber color. Consider yourself warned.)
There are also some aldehydes up top, and I get a quick whiff of them as they whoosh by. After that aromatic baseball-bat-to-the-head, Dune settles down fairly quickly, with quiet, blended florals that seem not fresh, but pressed in the old book you were reading on the beach the other day: identifiably rose petals and ylang and jasmine, and a note of great floral sweetness that could be either the broom or the wallflower (since I’ve not smelled either in a garden). In amongst the flowers are a few grains of sand, and the salty air seems to have gotten into the pages of the book, so that it smells salty as well as of woody vanilla. Eventually, Dune pulls up a soft, powdery base that could be sweeter than it is, since it is primarily a sandalwood-vanilla-amber thing that could crumble like chalk in your fingers, with a little bit of moss and patchouli to keep it from going all gooey sweet. Powder-haters are probably not going to enjoy Dune; again, consider yourself warned.
The whole experience is seamless, a gradual arc big as the horizon at the beach. Dune doesn’t smell like a beach, especially not the white-sand, big-waves, bikini-babe type of beach. It does evoke a beach for me, through its dryness and vague salty air, its indistinct florals and its woody, chalky texture. It’s a winter beach, maybe, and the wearer is all alone on it, indulging in a luxurious, peaceful solitude. Many of the reviews I’ve read mention that it does seem to have a color, and I agree: it is a peachy-sandy amber color, warm but dry, clean but not antiseptic.
Perfumes: The Guide gives Dune five stars, describing it as “fresh oriental,” “Bleakest Beauty in all of perfumery,” and “unsmiling from top to bottom… drained of life, flesh-toned in the creepy way of artificial limbs, not real ones. Marvelous.” (If anyone here is once again questioning Luca Turin’s sanity, I concur. “Flesh-toned creepy” is marvelous? Holy moly.) This review also mentions the “anisic carrot-seed top notes” and “inedible cheap-chocolate drydown,” neither of which I really get out of Dune, although what little patchouli I notice is indeed that powdery-earthy-cocoa I normally hate. It doesn’t bother me here.
Dune is aligned, in my mind, with Jacomo Silences, as being a perfectly meditative fragrance, the kind of thing I find best worn for thinking in silence. Silences has color for me as well: silvery green, with ribbons of pink and pale purple. Dune, of course, is an oriental rather than a green floral, but Turin and other reviewers are right: it is never cloying or too loud, and it does carry a feeling of freshness all the way down to that powdery-soft base.
Dune has that magical quality of smelling absolutely distinctive, like nothing else, and being cohesive top to bottom. I enjoy it very much. It’s interesting that such an unusual fragrance, not immediately “pretty” or uncomplicated, is still popular and selling well. (However, I think E will wind up with this bottle after all, in keeping with my new policy of passing on bottles I don’t love.)
Other reviews of Dune: March at Perfume Posse, Grain de Musc, Perfume Shrine, Erin at NST. Know of any other reviews I’ve missed? Please share. Top image, the Dune ad that seems most evocative of the scent to me, is via Perfume Shrine, bottle image via Fragrantica.